US National Book Awards: The 2021 Winners

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The 72nd iteration of the United States’ National Book Awards featured an initial pool of 1,892 submissions in five categories.

Comedian Phoebe Robinson hosted the digital ceremony of the 72nd National Book Awards. Image: National Book Foundation video

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A Second Year’s Digital Presentation
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the 72nd National Book Awards program’s organizers had hoped they could produce the customary live ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Instead, they opted for a second year’s digital presentation (embedded below), streamed this evening (November 17).

The National Book Foundation reports that publishers submitted a total 1,892 books for this year’s awards, in this breakdown of categories:

  • Fiction: 415 submissions
  • Nonfiction: 679 submissions
  • Poetry: 290 submissions
  • Translated Literature: 164 submissions
  • Young People’s Literature: 344 submissions

In each category here, we’ll list the winner at the top, followed by her or his  and repeat the other finalists.

Fiction Winner: Jason Mott

Jason Mott has published three previous novels. His first novel, The Returned, was turned into a television series. He has a BFA in fiction and an MFA in poetry, both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Winner: Jason Mott Hell of a Book Penguin Random House / Dutton
Anthony Doerr Cloud Cuckoo Land Simon & Schuster / Scribner
Lauren Groff Matrix Penguin Random House / Riverhead Books
Laird Hunt Zorrie Bloomsbury Publishing
Robert Jones Jr. The Prophets Penguin Random House / GP Putnam’s Sons
Nonfiction Winner: Tiya Miles

Tiya Miles is a history professor of history and holds the Radcliffe Alumnae Professor seat at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, serving as director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard. She’s a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Miles is the author of The Dawn of Detroit, which won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, among other honors, as well as Ties That Bind, The House on Diamond Hill, The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts, and Tales from the Haunted South, a published lecture series.

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Winnera: Tiya Miles All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake Penguin Random House / Random House
Hanif Abdurraqib A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance Penguin Random House / Random House
Lucas Bessire Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains Princeton University Press
Grace M. Cho Tastes Like War: A Memoir Feminist Press at the City University of New York (CUNY)
Nicole Eustace Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America WW Norton / Liveright
Poetry Winner: Martín Espada

Martín Espadahas published more than 20 books as a poet, editor, essayist, and translator, including Vivas to Those Who Have Failed and The Republic of Poetry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He has won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Winner: Martín Espada Floaters WW Norton & Company
Desiree C. Bailey What Noise Against the Cane Yale University Press
Douglas Kearney Sho Wave Books
Hoa Nguyen A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure Wave Books
Jackie Wang The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void Nightboat Books
Translated Literature Winners:
Elisa Shua Dusapin and Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Elisa Shua Dusapin is French, and was raised in Paris, Seoul, and Switzerland. Winter in Sokcho is her first novel, and was awarded the Prix Robert Walser and the Prix Régine Desforges. Its translation rights have sold into six languages.

Aneesa Abbas Higgins has translated books by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Ali Zamir, and Nina Bouraoui. Seven Stones by Vénus Khoury-Ghata was shortlisted for the Scott Moncrieff Prize, and both A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir and What Became of the White Savage by François Garde won PEN Translates awards.

Author Title Original Language Translator Publisher / Imprint
Winner: Elisa Shua Dusapin Winter in Sokcho French Winner: Aneesa Abbas Higgins Open Letter
Ge Fei Peach Blossom Paradise Chinese Canaan Morse New York Review Books
Nona Fernández The Twilight Zone Spanish Natasha Wimmer Graywolf Press
Benjamin Labatut When We Cease To Understand the World Spanish Adrian Nathan West New York Review Books
Samar Yazbek Planet of Clay Arabic Leri Price World Editions
Young People’s Literature Winner: Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo is the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of several novels, including most recently A Line in the Dark, which was chosen as a Kirkus and Vulture “best young adult book of the year.” Her novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award, the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature.

Lo is a three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Winner: Malinda Lo Last Night at the Telegraph Club Penguin Random House / Dutton Books for Young Readers
Shing Yin Khor The Legend of Auntie Po Penguin Random House / Kokila
Kyle Lukoff Too Bright to See Penguin Random House / Dial Books for Young Readers
Kekla Magoon Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People Candlewick Press
Amber McBride Me (Moth) Macmillan Publishers / Feiwel and Friends

The program also included the formal presentations of the National Book Awards’ two lifetime achievement awards—Karen Tei Yamashita was recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by Viet Thanh Nguyen; and Nancy Pearl received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, presented by Ron Charles.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards is here, and on publishing and book awards programs in general is here

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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